Archive for Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Recruiting services often miss mark on ascending programs

February 6, 2008

I love Signing Day, which took place on Wednesday, for completely nonsensical reasons. I only sporadically follow recruiting throughout the year, mostly to check on whom the Jayhawks are pursuing. The vast majority of players, anonymous high school students from around the country, I have never heard of.

And the biggest reason that I, and everyone else, should pay no heed to this day is the mountain of evidence that the rankings are a guessing game. Look no further than Lawrence, where the Jayhawks had recruiting classes ranked nationally of 50, 38, 48 and 51 over the last four years, according to Rivals.com. Those classes made up a team that won 12 games and the Orange Bowl.

Mark Mangino has always bypassed normal modes of evaluation, large recruiting bases such as Rivals and Scout.com, and trusted the ability of his coaching staff to spot talented players that have fallen through the cracks. Mangino's 2004 class, for instance, was ranked 51st nationally. Those players were the backbone of the Orange Bowl team, including these "2-star recruits:" Aqib Talib, Anthony Collins, Joe Mortensen, Dexton Fields and Ryan Cantrell.

Kansas will finish with another sub-par ranked class this year, especially for a team coming off a BCS Bowl victory. The 'Hawks 2008 class was rated 36th in the nation as of late Tuesday night (which also happens to be the highest ranked class Mangino has ever brought in).

It doesn't matter. Mangino has earned my trust and he has proven to everyone that smart evaluation and an ability to develop raw talent is more important than winning the annual beauty contest that is Signing Day.

And while Kansas' recruiting class is ranked higher this year than in years past, I have a theory that explains that without necessarily translating into better players coming to Lawrence. I believe that these websites are giving Mangino a lot of respect. It is well known that recruiting sites will boost a player's rating based on who is interested in them-it is the reason that Florida State had an incredible run of highly ranked recruiting classes when these sites came to prominence. The thinking went thusly: if Florida State, a football factory that can choose athletes from across the country, shows interest in a player, then that must mean that player is good. This inflated recruiting rankings of several prestigious schools.

Guys like Mark Mangino and Wake Forest's Jim Grobe provide a corollary. They have proven they can win without 4- and 5-star recruits. This means one of two things: either these two coaches are among the very best evaluators in the country or they are among the very best developers in the country. It's probably both. Now sites are giving slightly more credence to prospects that those guys go after.

Wednesday's festivities and 'analysis' were based almost entirely on word of mouth, school's interested, fluky high school stats, inflated measurements and opinions from people who have never seen most of these athletes play. I didn't care. I loved it.

Signing Day is an oasis in the desert of winter for college football junkies. It dawns on me in early February of every year that I won't watch a meaningful football game again until September-seven months! This sad realization leads me to latch onto fixes such as Signing Day and the NFL Draft. I can't help it.

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